Commentary Magazine


Topic: media attention

Rand Paul Sinking?

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic outfit, but its polls are generally well regarded and haven’t been out of whack in the primary races. So Republicans should perk up over the latest poll on the Kentucky Senate race:

[Rand] Paul and Jack Conway are getting 43% each. The more Kentucky voters get to know Rand Paul, the less they like him. When PPP first polled the race in December Paul’s favorability was a +3 spread at 26/23. By May it was a -7 spread at 28/35. Now it’s a -8 spread at 34/42. The national media attention Paul has received has hurt his cause with voters in the state- 38% say it has made them less likely to support Paul while 29% say it has made them more inclined to vote for him and 33% say it hasn’t had an impact on their attitude toward Paul one way or the other.

As other polls are released, we’ll see if this is an outlier. But Paul has a problem. Since his civil rights debacle, he’s largely been hiding from the media. As a result, he’s not giving voters anything positive to counter the overwhelmingly negative media coverage he’s received. He needs to explain his views and assure voters that he’s not an extremist. And if he really does hold extreme views on a variety of topics or can’t articulate what views he does have, the GOP primary voters will have made a big mistake, and a relatively “easy” seat may slip through their fingers.

Public Policy Polling is a Democratic outfit, but its polls are generally well regarded and haven’t been out of whack in the primary races. So Republicans should perk up over the latest poll on the Kentucky Senate race:

[Rand] Paul and Jack Conway are getting 43% each. The more Kentucky voters get to know Rand Paul, the less they like him. When PPP first polled the race in December Paul’s favorability was a +3 spread at 26/23. By May it was a -7 spread at 28/35. Now it’s a -8 spread at 34/42. The national media attention Paul has received has hurt his cause with voters in the state- 38% say it has made them less likely to support Paul while 29% say it has made them more inclined to vote for him and 33% say it hasn’t had an impact on their attitude toward Paul one way or the other.

As other polls are released, we’ll see if this is an outlier. But Paul has a problem. Since his civil rights debacle, he’s largely been hiding from the media. As a result, he’s not giving voters anything positive to counter the overwhelmingly negative media coverage he’s received. He needs to explain his views and assure voters that he’s not an extremist. And if he really does hold extreme views on a variety of topics or can’t articulate what views he does have, the GOP primary voters will have made a big mistake, and a relatively “easy” seat may slip through their fingers.

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Why Tea Partiers Should Drink Coffee, Too

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “we recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

In a copycat response to the Tea Party movement, a Facebook-founded group called The Coffee Party USA has been gaining momentum and followers. Its ideological line is obscure, though apparently more Left-leaning than the Tea Partiers. Nevertheless, the Coffee Party could be a boon to conservatives, if only they’re smart enough to capitalize on it.

Tea Partiers aren’t fighting against totalitarianism. They’re fighting against what Alexis de Tocqueville would have called soft despotism — when citizens trade their personal liberties for comfortable dependence on the state.

But Tocqueville’s best defense against soft despotism was civil and political organizations formed and joined by citizens. Through association, Americans learned to appreciate their community in addition to their individuality. They discovered what they were capable of accomplishing without the help of government.

Ultimately, such civil and political associations actually prepare citizens for self-government.

Ironically, the Coffee Party’s mission states that “we recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.” Despite its enthusiasm for the federal scale, the Coffee Party will be most effective if it sticks to the Tea Party model and remains local.

The Tea Party movement has been groundbreaking because it helped the little guy find his political voice — one that proved as loud as the president’s, in some respects. Already garnering national media attention, the Coffee Party could promote the same enthusiasm for local political involvement.

The biggest criticism against Tea Partiers has been their tone — at times judgmental, hostile, and uncouth. The Coffee Party has extended the invitation for Tea Partiers to join and discuss the issues with them. It’s an offer that should be accepted — a nice middle ground between the twin tendencies to preach to the choir and rail against the establishment.

If Tea Partiers can show their civil, logical side, this is a great opportunity for persuasion. Likewise, if conservative leaders attend and listen, it’s a great opportunity to expand their constituency. (Remember how effective Hillary Clinton’s listening tour was.)

Civil and political associations matter, but so do the ideas they advocate. The past year has shown an encouraging surge in ground-level political involvement. That suggests a citizenry uncomfortable with top-down governance. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated that public opinion does not originate in Washington but on Main Street. Now, if conservatives can politically engage with average citizens whose views are moderate or even liberal, they’ll do much to protect American liberty. Lucky for the Right, that’s a discussion that can be had over coffee or tea.

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ObamaCare and Political Theater

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

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Do the Job, Mr. President

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post joins the pundits who huff and puff about the American people, empathizing with politicians who must figure out what it is those darn voters really want. The public is fickle, you see, because they want contradictory things. It goes like this: “They want everyone to have access to affordable health insurance, but they’re wary of expanding the role of government.” Or, “They want to do something about global warming, but not if it raises energy prices.” Actually, it’s pretty easy to resolve these “contradictions.” Americans would rather do nothing about health care at this point. As for global warming, they seem fine with developing alternative energy like nuclear power (which the Obama team acknowledged by providing a loan guarantee to build the first new domestic nuclear power plant in decades). But it sounds so much more sophisticated to complain that the rubes are really impossible to deal with. (Sort of the punditocracy’s equivalent of high schoolers complaining about their parents.)

That bit of voter-dissing out of the way, Pearlstein then concedes that Obama has been a bust as president. First, he does not think much of the “more campaign tactics!” approach to recovering Obama’s political footing. He warns, “He will not demonstrate that leadership by running around to carefully staged events in which he tells ordinary voters what he thinks they want to hear. Nor will he demonstrate it by redoubling efforts of his PR war room to respond to every attack or piece of Republican disinformation with overwhelming rhetorical force.” And Obama goofed (Pearlstein calls it “Obama’s singular mistake”) by letting Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi run the show. “It should be obvious now that the president cannot leave it to Congress to sort things out.” So what should he do? Why be president — govern. Should Obama not know what that entails, Pearlstein spells it out:

For the next several months, he needs to create a sense of urgency and expectation, consulting widely and privately with Republicans and Democrats and interested parties who care more about getting things done than winning the next election. Based on those conversations and his own sense of what the public will accept, he needs to put forward a set of compromise proposals on jobs, health care, financial reform and the budget. And then he needs to park himself in the President’s Room at the Capitol, along with top aides and Cabinet members, and refuse to leave until he has put together working majorities for each proposal — with the help of legislative leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.

In case you were wondering, yes, that’s what being president requires and what his predecessors all did. It’s a bit pathetic if not scary that pundits have to spell out what the job of president is after Obama’s a full year into the job. But I think Pearlstein has a point: Obama doesn’t understand the necessity (if one is to be a successful president) to formulate detailed policy, build support for it, and help usher it through the legislative process. Obama imagines instead that it’s all just like campaigning — stage events, attack the opponents, bask in the media attention, etc. It is a fundamentally unserious vision of the presidency — and one, it turns out, that is unsustainable.

Obama, of course, would also have to shove overboard the substance of his left-wing agenda. But most of all, he just needs to get down to work.

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post joins the pundits who huff and puff about the American people, empathizing with politicians who must figure out what it is those darn voters really want. The public is fickle, you see, because they want contradictory things. It goes like this: “They want everyone to have access to affordable health insurance, but they’re wary of expanding the role of government.” Or, “They want to do something about global warming, but not if it raises energy prices.” Actually, it’s pretty easy to resolve these “contradictions.” Americans would rather do nothing about health care at this point. As for global warming, they seem fine with developing alternative energy like nuclear power (which the Obama team acknowledged by providing a loan guarantee to build the first new domestic nuclear power plant in decades). But it sounds so much more sophisticated to complain that the rubes are really impossible to deal with. (Sort of the punditocracy’s equivalent of high schoolers complaining about their parents.)

That bit of voter-dissing out of the way, Pearlstein then concedes that Obama has been a bust as president. First, he does not think much of the “more campaign tactics!” approach to recovering Obama’s political footing. He warns, “He will not demonstrate that leadership by running around to carefully staged events in which he tells ordinary voters what he thinks they want to hear. Nor will he demonstrate it by redoubling efforts of his PR war room to respond to every attack or piece of Republican disinformation with overwhelming rhetorical force.” And Obama goofed (Pearlstein calls it “Obama’s singular mistake”) by letting Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi run the show. “It should be obvious now that the president cannot leave it to Congress to sort things out.” So what should he do? Why be president — govern. Should Obama not know what that entails, Pearlstein spells it out:

For the next several months, he needs to create a sense of urgency and expectation, consulting widely and privately with Republicans and Democrats and interested parties who care more about getting things done than winning the next election. Based on those conversations and his own sense of what the public will accept, he needs to put forward a set of compromise proposals on jobs, health care, financial reform and the budget. And then he needs to park himself in the President’s Room at the Capitol, along with top aides and Cabinet members, and refuse to leave until he has put together working majorities for each proposal — with the help of legislative leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.

In case you were wondering, yes, that’s what being president requires and what his predecessors all did. It’s a bit pathetic if not scary that pundits have to spell out what the job of president is after Obama’s a full year into the job. But I think Pearlstein has a point: Obama doesn’t understand the necessity (if one is to be a successful president) to formulate detailed policy, build support for it, and help usher it through the legislative process. Obama imagines instead that it’s all just like campaigning — stage events, attack the opponents, bask in the media attention, etc. It is a fundamentally unserious vision of the presidency — and one, it turns out, that is unsustainable.

Obama, of course, would also have to shove overboard the substance of his left-wing agenda. But most of all, he just needs to get down to work.

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Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

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Is Reid the Best They Can Do?

Pundits are divided: is Harry Reid a racist or just a buffoon? I tend to agree with Mark Steyn and Matt Yglesias (hard to believe there would ever be an occasion to write those words):

It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else.

Ruth Marcus put it this way:

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.) The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

Nor is this the only time Harry Reid showed an odd obsession with the manner in which prominent African Americans express themselves. It was Reid who declared of Justice Clarence Thomas: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” (He nevertheless had kind words for Justice Scalia, the other sharp-penned conservative on the court.) And then there was his remark that Republicans who opposed ObamaCare were comparable to those who opposed the repeal of slavery. It is hard to think of another figure in public life who is so tone-deaf on matters of race.

There is something, well, just not right about Reid’s propensity to toss around incendiary racial analogies and observations. Goodness knows what’s in his heart, but this simply isn’t what we expect of public leaders, who, if they can’t think of something helpful or enlightening to say on race relations, should at the very least keep quiet. Honestly, is he the best that the Democrats can do for a majority leader, or the best the people of Nevada can do for a senator? I suppose we’ll find out in November. But the Democrats’ insistence that there’s nothing wrong with Reid aside from a slip of the tongue (well, lots and lots of them) or nothing wrong enough to be disqualifying rings hollow. You’d think they’d at least prefer someone who doesn’t absorb days of media attention in apology mode.

You might expect the Democratic establishment to quietly encourage him to follow Chris Dodd’s example. In circling the wagons around their wounded and increasingly embarrassing leader, the Democrats in D.C. are passing the buck to Nevada voters, who, I suspect, will be more anxious than ever to elect someone more in line with their views and less offensive in his public rhetoric.

Pundits are divided: is Harry Reid a racist or just a buffoon? I tend to agree with Mark Steyn and Matt Yglesias (hard to believe there would ever be an occasion to write those words):

It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else.

Ruth Marcus put it this way:

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.) The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

Nor is this the only time Harry Reid showed an odd obsession with the manner in which prominent African Americans express themselves. It was Reid who declared of Justice Clarence Thomas: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” (He nevertheless had kind words for Justice Scalia, the other sharp-penned conservative on the court.) And then there was his remark that Republicans who opposed ObamaCare were comparable to those who opposed the repeal of slavery. It is hard to think of another figure in public life who is so tone-deaf on matters of race.

There is something, well, just not right about Reid’s propensity to toss around incendiary racial analogies and observations. Goodness knows what’s in his heart, but this simply isn’t what we expect of public leaders, who, if they can’t think of something helpful or enlightening to say on race relations, should at the very least keep quiet. Honestly, is he the best that the Democrats can do for a majority leader, or the best the people of Nevada can do for a senator? I suppose we’ll find out in November. But the Democrats’ insistence that there’s nothing wrong with Reid aside from a slip of the tongue (well, lots and lots of them) or nothing wrong enough to be disqualifying rings hollow. You’d think they’d at least prefer someone who doesn’t absorb days of media attention in apology mode.

You might expect the Democratic establishment to quietly encourage him to follow Chris Dodd’s example. In circling the wagons around their wounded and increasingly embarrassing leader, the Democrats in D.C. are passing the buck to Nevada voters, who, I suspect, will be more anxious than ever to elect someone more in line with their views and less offensive in his public rhetoric.

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Blanche Snowe

Sen. Blanche Lincoln is furiously trying to explain how difficult her decisive 60th vote was and what she really doesn’t like so very much about the health-care bill. Uh huh. Lincoln has good reason to be out spinning — she’s up for a tough re-election fight in less than a year, and Arkansas voters hate ObamaCare. All this spells bad news for Lincoln:

In a telephone survey of 501 likely voters in Arkansas, conducted on November 16-17, 2009, voters reported opposing the healthcare changes with only 29% saying they backed it while 64% said they were opposed. Fifty percent of likely voters indicated strong opposition to the plan while only 17% indicated strong support.

In an initial match-up of Lincoln and possible Republican candidate State Senator Gilbert Baker, the incumbent, Lincoln, holds a narrow 41-39 lead. Against another possible GOP contender, State Senator Kim Hendren, Lincoln holds a more substantial 45-29 lead.

And that was before she cast that 60th vote, which raises the issue as to why she drew the short straw as the “deciding vote.” Really, every Democrat’s vote was the deciding one, but apparently they figured out the political ramifications of being tagged as the 60th before she did.

So now Lincoln will have to imitate Olympia Snowe, who is besieged with media attention lauding her willingness to vote to move ObamaCare forward. Lincoln will tell us how hard a decision it was, how committed to “improving the bill” she is, and how she won’t vote for a “bad bill” in the end. Well, maybe that’ll fly in Arkansas — but she could have killed ObamaCare and didn’t. Good luck explaining that to the 64 percent of her constituents who don’t want government-run health care.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln is furiously trying to explain how difficult her decisive 60th vote was and what she really doesn’t like so very much about the health-care bill. Uh huh. Lincoln has good reason to be out spinning — she’s up for a tough re-election fight in less than a year, and Arkansas voters hate ObamaCare. All this spells bad news for Lincoln:

In a telephone survey of 501 likely voters in Arkansas, conducted on November 16-17, 2009, voters reported opposing the healthcare changes with only 29% saying they backed it while 64% said they were opposed. Fifty percent of likely voters indicated strong opposition to the plan while only 17% indicated strong support.

In an initial match-up of Lincoln and possible Republican candidate State Senator Gilbert Baker, the incumbent, Lincoln, holds a narrow 41-39 lead. Against another possible GOP contender, State Senator Kim Hendren, Lincoln holds a more substantial 45-29 lead.

And that was before she cast that 60th vote, which raises the issue as to why she drew the short straw as the “deciding vote.” Really, every Democrat’s vote was the deciding one, but apparently they figured out the political ramifications of being tagged as the 60th before she did.

So now Lincoln will have to imitate Olympia Snowe, who is besieged with media attention lauding her willingness to vote to move ObamaCare forward. Lincoln will tell us how hard a decision it was, how committed to “improving the bill” she is, and how she won’t vote for a “bad bill” in the end. Well, maybe that’ll fly in Arkansas — but she could have killed ObamaCare and didn’t. Good luck explaining that to the 64 percent of her constituents who don’t want government-run health care.

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It’s A Mixed-Up, Crazy World

For the second time in a week, Hamas gunmen have assaulted a transportation hub supplying Gaza. Last week the fuel transfer station at Nachal Oz was attacked. Today Hamas attacked both the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which humanitarian aid is supplied to Gaza, and, once again, the Nachal Oz station.

But wait: aren’t the Israelis the ones who want to stop fuel and humanitarian aid from getting to Gaza? In a strange new twist, Israel and Hamas have reversed their alleged roles: Israel is trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Hamas is trying to create one.

The reason for these attacks? Hamas needs media attention to survive. The worst thing that could happen to Ismail Haniyah and Khaled Meshaal is for the world to stop paying attention to the disaster they’ve created. So if Hamas can’t convince Israel to shut the lights off with Qassam rockets (which the group routinely aims at the power station inside Israel that supplies Gaza with most of its electricity), or by confiscating half the fuel supplies that do make it into Gaza, it attacks Nachal Oz and Kerem Shalom directly. Anything to advance the false narrative of the Israeli blockade, keep Gaza in the headlines, and demonstrate the efficacy of Hamas’s resistance.

I wonder whether those members of the international community whose consciences are finely attuned to Palestinian suffering will respond to all of this by denouncing Hamas for its collective punishment of Gaza, for attempting to instigate a humanitarian crisis, for endangering the ability of hospitals to remain open, etc. You know: all the things Israel is routinely accused of doing, but which only Hamas ever seems to perpetrate.

For the second time in a week, Hamas gunmen have assaulted a transportation hub supplying Gaza. Last week the fuel transfer station at Nachal Oz was attacked. Today Hamas attacked both the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which humanitarian aid is supplied to Gaza, and, once again, the Nachal Oz station.

But wait: aren’t the Israelis the ones who want to stop fuel and humanitarian aid from getting to Gaza? In a strange new twist, Israel and Hamas have reversed their alleged roles: Israel is trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Hamas is trying to create one.

The reason for these attacks? Hamas needs media attention to survive. The worst thing that could happen to Ismail Haniyah and Khaled Meshaal is for the world to stop paying attention to the disaster they’ve created. So if Hamas can’t convince Israel to shut the lights off with Qassam rockets (which the group routinely aims at the power station inside Israel that supplies Gaza with most of its electricity), or by confiscating half the fuel supplies that do make it into Gaza, it attacks Nachal Oz and Kerem Shalom directly. Anything to advance the false narrative of the Israeli blockade, keep Gaza in the headlines, and demonstrate the efficacy of Hamas’s resistance.

I wonder whether those members of the international community whose consciences are finely attuned to Palestinian suffering will respond to all of this by denouncing Hamas for its collective punishment of Gaza, for attempting to instigate a humanitarian crisis, for endangering the ability of hospitals to remain open, etc. You know: all the things Israel is routinely accused of doing, but which only Hamas ever seems to perpetrate.

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And Egypt’s Not For Refugees

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

I’m going to piggyback on Jamie’s post about the gay Palestinian  granted temporary residence status in Israel. Seth Freedman has an excellent piece at the Guardian’s comment is free about Israel’s taking in of refugees from Darfur. The nation whose very existence is an offense to so many of its Muslim neighbors is providing sanctuary for those lucky enough to escape slaughter under the Sudanese government.

Freedman interviews a refugee named Yasin, now the director of Bnei Darfur, an organization that helps other refugees who have escaped the butchery. After most of his family were slaughtered in Darfur, Yasin fled to Egypt. but pervasive and violent racism made things unlivable there. And, after all, Egypt is on the side of the Sudanese government. Freedman writes:

It doesn’t help that the Darfurians are accusing fellow Muslims of genocide, said Yassin, noting that the Muslim states who support the Sudanese government in turn claim that the refugees are collaborating with enemy states in the West. “All of the Arab countries support the government of Sudan – our problem is with the Arab League,” Yassin stated with a shake of his head at his people’s plight.

When Yasin entered Israel illegally he was jailed for many months. But Israel’s democratic institutions paved the way for his release and eventual integration into Israeli society. Israel has a free press, and Yasin’s story got a lot of media attention. NGOs, too, function without restraint there, and various humanitarian organizations intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the larger refugee community. The Israeli government has now granted 600 of the 750 Darfur refugees temporary residence status.

That’s hundreds of Muslims who owe their lives to the evil Zionist state.

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Making Iran Pay

An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

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An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

Of course, there is no way for the 1983 victims of the Marine barracks bombing to collect the money they have been awarded. Iran’s assets in the United States amount to no more than $20 million, almost all of it diplomatic property that the American government cannot touch. So this ruling, and the subsequent judgment, are both symbolic.

Typical of this symbolism was a portion of Judge Lamberth’s written decision, in which he stated that “this extremely sizeable judgment will serve to aid in the healing process and simultaneously sound the alarm to the defendants that their unlawful attacks on our citizens will not be tolerated.” His first contention—that the awarding of many millions of dollars (which they will never see) will “aid in the healing process”—is one that only the victims of this tragedy can judge. The second—that a force-less American court ruling (not the first of its kind) will somehow dissuade Iran from continuing its support for global terror—is even more dubious.

Iran’s involvement in attacks against American soldiers persists, at least according to General David Petraeus. At a news conference Wednesday after his congressional testimony, the General said, “The evidence is very, very clear. We captured it when we captured Qais Khazali, the Lebanese Hizballah deputy commander and others. And it’s in black and white.”

But according to many on the Left, Petraues is somehow a traitor for reporting such evidence. Others who make mere mention of the Iranian proxy war (most prominently, Senator Lieberman) are called “warmongers,” in the words of net-left favorite Matthew Yglesias. Through such effusions, these critics betray a belief that the Islamic Republic will stop killing our soldiers if we just abandon Iraq. But as last week’s court ruling reminds us, Iran has been killing Americans for decades—long before the 2003 invasion. There’s no reason to think the attacks on Americans suddenly will stop, and all kinds of reasons to think they will increase, should we capitulate.

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Weekend Reading

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

Last night, House Republicans walked out of a vote, the results of which they claimed to be in dispute. Partisan politics, and the clashing ideas that animate it, occupy a huge amount of media attention (almost as much as is devoted to the war in Iraq). COMMENTARY is a veteran observer of interparty conflict and of the ideologies at issue in those conflicts. For this weekend’s reading, we offer some of our keenest pieces on the American political divide.

Is Conservatism Finished?
Wilfred M. McClay—January 2007

How Divided Are We?
James Q. Wilson—February 2006

Why the Democrats Keep Losing
Joshua Muravchik—January 2005

Back to Politics as Usual?
Daniel Casse—March 2002

Republican Nation, Democratic Nation?
Terry Teachout—January 2001

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